Saturday, May 14, 2016

Thoughts on "Big Magic"

Thoughts on "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert
(Note, all of Ms. Gilbert's words are in Italics, mine are in regular font. Some quotes are paraphrased.)

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity, “Big Magic”. This post is not a book review but more of an attempt to organize and put down in writing some of her ideas that resonated with me as a artist. Although much of the book speaks to the experiences of writers (she is one after all) there are some universal themes that apply to all creative people.

The cover blurb, in which much of the book’s message is distilled, reads:
“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn't matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified. We are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.”


She talks of creativity (ideas & inspiration) like it’s an numinous entity. She says that “ideas are floating about in the ethers looking for someone to bring them into creation and are driven by a single impulse, to be made manifest. Ideas spend an eternity swirling around us looking for willing and available human partners, and if you're oblivious to it it's message it will move on to someone else.” She says - “The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.”

I too have wondered where the magic of ideas and inspiration come from. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of channeling, where you have to be open and trusting as to where it will lead you. Most of the time you’ll be pleased with where it leads but occasionally you have to be OK if the results aren’t what you consider your best work. She talks about the Romans who “didn't believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius, they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius. So success or failure is not totally yours. You can say my genius just didn't show up today. Either way, the vulnerable human ego is protected. Protected from the corrupting influence of praise. Protected from the corrosive effects of shame.”
The books of Eckhart Tolle have taught me a lot about the machinations of the human ego. So now I can recognize it more readily when it appears. I have to remind myself sometimes to disentangle my ego from my art because it has a way of choking the life and fun out of it (Ouch, my ego really hates that I just admitted to all the internet that I have an ego!) To me, it seems that the ego and perfectionism are entangled like two vines climbing the same pole.

Do you consider perfectionism to be a virtue? Some do, but Ms. Gilbert refers to it as just “fear in high heels” and a thing that can stop you from putting yourself and your art out there. She quotes writer Rebecca Solnit who says -
 “so many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it's also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun."
Ms. Gilbert reminds us - don’t take it all so seriously, it matters and it doesn’t matter. The thing is - if you’re an artist (or not) you will fail sometimes. She says, “Your ego is a wonderful servant but it's a terrible master because the only thing your ego ever wants is reward, reward, and more reward.”
And as an introvert I’ve learned that the ego can take on different forms. It's not just grandiosity (as exemplified by a certain presidential candidate with orange hair) To paraphrase, “It can be a fear of criticism and not being perfect in the eyes of others. It can be not putting yourself out there in the world because you fear being under a microscope and you don't want your precious ego to be under that kind of scrutiny. It's best to distance yourself, disengage, and adopt a view that it doesn't matter. This takes inner work.”
But she reminds us of this saving grace for when one’s ego acts up - “that I am not only an ego, I am also a soul”. And “the soul desires only one thing - wonder.”

She talks about fear as being a big deterrent for leading a creative life. I personally don’t have a lot of fear when it comes to creativity (mainly because I don’t know how to do anything else), but I can understand how a writer might be fearful of baring her soul for all the world to witness. She calls fear “a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.” I think that applies to a lot of things in our lives! She encourages us to live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. As far as being fearful that you aren’t good enough or that you don’t deserve to do your creative work, she cites the poet David Whyte who talks of “the arrogance of belonging”.  In other words that you are entitled to be here on Earth  “and that by being here you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”
And this part I love: “Let people have their opinions. More than that, let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else's blessing or even their comprehension in order to make your creative work. And always remember that people's judgments about you are none of your business.” Wise words indeed!!
Other liberating words about people and their opinions: “Don't worry what other people are thinking about you because they probably aren't thinking about you. People are mostly just thinking about themselves. They don't have time to think about you because they're all caught up in their own dramas. There is a great sense of release found in this idea you are free.
And, “Do it whether the final product is crap or gold. Do it whether the critics love you or hate you. Do it whether people get it or don't get it.”

So, those are the things that resonated the most with me. If you haven’t read this book yet, I recommend that you do. Elizabeth  Gilbert writes with humor and warmth so it’s a pleasant, easy read. I felt a sense of liberation and unburdening as I took to heart her message of surrender and letting go of the outcome. She speaks of a paradox - creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. Art is deeply meaningful (it enriches our souls and human experience) but at the same time it is meaningless (we don’t need it for survival the way we need food, clothing, and shelter). So then, why make things? It may be as simple as this - “Creative living takes us out of ourselves for a moment for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.”



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Being Home & Margaretenspitze

At home in the grass -  "Earthing"

There's No Place Like Home

It’s been a long time since I posted anything in my blog. It’s one of those things that started out enthusiastically then my enthusiasm soon fizzled. What can I say? It seems that in these modern times there are so many things that compete for one’s attention.
For me my #1 joy is making things but there are other things to do such as Facebook and other online distractions (too much time spent here), walking, gardening, cooking, strumming my ukulele, playing mah-jong or having lunch with a friend, watching TV and movies, hanging with my honey, paying due homage and adoration to my cats, and the list goes on…… (notice that cleaning the house was not on my list!)

I don’t think that I’m busier than anyone else, in fact I’m in awe of people who have children and day jobs and still seem to get so much accomplished. I’m in awe of organized, disciplined people because I’m not one of them. So, this is why the blog gets short shrift.

But, I have good news (for myself anyway) that might free up some time. I’ve decided to discontinue going on the road to teach. Never say never, but I think I’m done with it. This is not a reflection on my students who have been without exception (well maybe 1 or 2 out of hundreds) super nice creative women who I’ve enjoyed hanging out with.
Teaching has been a great job but like anything it has it’s drawbacks. For me it was the huge amounts of time that I’d spend preparing for classes which crowded out all other aspects of my creative life. And the fact that my body just doesn’t adjust well to jet lag, changing time zones, variable barimetric pressures, strange beds, earplugs, lack of sleep, strange foods, you get the picture. In short, if you took one of my classes and I seemed a little spacey, it was probably because I had a massive headache. My friend Jennifer is a traveling teacher with a much busier schedule than I ever had and she seems to thrive on it. But me… not so much.

Margaretenspitze Necklace by Joan Babcock

Ahh....Margaretenspitze

So now that I’m home and have more time, what has caught my interest of late? A kind of fine knotting called Margaretenspitze. (I am not only trying to learn how to do it, I’m also trying to learn how to say it!) I’ve actually been aware of this technique for a while now and have used bits & pieces in my work, but I’m seeing more and more examples of it lately on the internet and they are really beautiful! It seems to be especially popular in Italy and since I’m taking a trip there in October (so excited!), I’m interested in seeing what the Italians are doing with macramé these days.


Originated in Germany by Margarete Naumann (1881-1946), it is a technique both fascinating and challenging. It consists primarily of Half Hitches and Double Half Hitches. The cords are carried along in bundles and dispersed into various patterns. I’m new at doing the more complex patterns so everything is trial and error and takes a long long time. I've taken out almost as many knots as I’ve put in! No doubt, having decades of knotting experience has given me an advantage, but I do think that any dedicated student could learn this technique.
Margaretenspitze Necklace by Joan Babcock

Here are a few of the resources I’ve come across that may pique your interest:

I don’t yet own Adriana Lazarri’s book, Il Pizzo Margaret, but I’m sure that I will eventually! If you’ve seen any samples from this book you’ll know why - her work is amazing!  http://www.ilmiomacrame.com/site/il-pizzo-margarete-di-adriana-lazzari/  It can be ordered from this site - http://www.tombolodisegni.it/  Click on the sub-heading “Libri Macramé” and scroll down. Adriana also has some YouTube videos on the basics.

I also recommend the two (free) classes by Sabrina Salvioli on www.craftartedu.com  They’re good for beginners and I really enjoyed them. http://craftartedu.com/introducing-margaretenspitze-sabrina-salvioli
You can see more of Sabrina’s beautiful work (and practice understanding Italian) on her blog http://macramemodena.blogspot.com/

Joan Hinchcliff has a Margaretenspitze Pinterest Page that’s full of beautiful examples - https://www.pinterest.com/trinkets10/margaretenspitze/  I haven’t followed all of the leads on this page (there are many) but it did lead me to this great website - http://www.margaretenspitze.de/  which has information (in English) about Margarete Naumann (for which the technique is named) and Lotte Heinemann who has carried on her work.

There’s so much more out there about this beautiful technique - I’m looking forward to further explorations!




Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wrapping & Coiling

As you may have noticed, as of today my blog has a (slightly) new name. When I googled it I found out that someone else had a blog with the same title (My Life in Knots) as mine and (gulp) she had it first!  Now any truly smart person would have checked this out before naming their blog but I didn't - so henceforth my blog will be "This" not "My" Life in Knots. No big whoop...


Waxed Linen Hair Ornament by Joan Babcock
But since I'm here I thought I'd share something I did recently that doesn't have anything to do with knots but has a lot to do with fiber. Last April I took a class with fiber artist Ferne Jacobs. It was a treat for me to relax and be a student for a change (no pressure!). Ferne makes these incredible wrapped and coiled works of Fiber Art that are truly wonderful. Anyway, I haven't gotten very far on my coiled basket that I started in class (as it is equally time consuming as knotting) but I did think that wrapping and coiling would have some interesting jewelry applications. I've done wrapping before in some of my pieces using Nylon cord, but waxed linen really is easier to work with. 


This is a hair ornament that I made with waxed linen wrapped around rope. I'm working on a bracelet next - I'll post a photo when/if I finish it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Knots, Beads, and Trolls




Sundial Earrings
New Book Coming Soon (I hope!)
Wow, it's been a long time since I posted! So for those who may have wondered - here's what I've been up to. Last year was busy, busy, busy with more teaching than I've ever done. On the whole it was a good experience and I have no complaints about the students I met, who were a real joy to hang out with. But (isn't there always a "but"?) frankly I got really physically burned out with the traveling part and yearned to spend more time at home. So that's what I've been up to - hanging out around my studio and diligently working on my next book. There were several finished projects that had been languishing on my computer for years so I thought the book was mostly done and that it would be a breeze to finish - - - wrong. It's been a slow and tedious path (is Mercury in retrograde?) but I am making progress. This book will be aimed at those who are past the beginner stage and need/want more of challenge. And I'm really happy with what I've come up with so far - hopefully I'll have it done and out there by this summer.


African Trade Bead Necklace

Somebody Else's Beads
Other than that, I've had a little time to do some jewelry making. Recently, I got an email request from someone asking if I could make a necklace for her using her own treasured African trade beads. My first reaction was to say no because long ago I promised myself that I wouldn't do any custom orders using somebody else's beads. First of all it's difficult to know what someone really has in mind. Is it the same necklace I'm envisioning in my mind's eye? A Vulcan "mind-meld" would come in really handy at this point! But she assured me repeatedly that she would be happy with whatever I came up with. But it's still tricky when working with somebody else's beads - what happens if they don't like the finished product? Do you cut out all of the beads and say "nice try"?  Well - long story short, I decided to trust my intuition and break my own rule and go for it. And luckily she loved the necklace and it turned out to be a good experience for all. Yay!  So in this case, trusting my intuition paid off. I wish that would happen every time!

Troll Obsession
When I was a child in Miami, Fl. I used to watch a local kids TV show called the "Commander Bolt Show". One time they had a contest to win an "Iggy" doll (otherwise known to all the world as Troll dolls). So, lo and behold, I won the contest with my pathetic and heart wrenching essay about how we had to give our dachshund "Penny" away because she nipped a neighbor's kid on the nose and my mom didn't want to have a dangerous animal in the house (and I was heartbroken, etc, etc…)  From then on I was an Iggy aficionado and collected many. My brother Kenny and I loved to play with them and made Iggy houses and Iggy clothes - we even invented our own dialect called "Iggy Talk". I am so fond of Iggy's that I dressed one up like an angel and she tops our tree every Christmas.

So why am I telling you all this??? Because last night I had the strangest dream. In the dream I was meeting some friends of my husband and the woman in the couple seemed uninterested in me until she saw my fascinating necklace. Not an intricate macrame/beaded concoction. No, the necklace had a simple chain with an upside-down troll doll hanging from it!!! And after seeing her positive reaction I thought - "well maybe I should make more of these".
So, what do you make of that - a new trend perhaps? An upside-down troll necklace sure would be easier to make!




Friday, February 1, 2013

Should All Information Be Free?


Sometimes I think back to those days not so very long ago - before we had the “internets”. I remember the actress Anna Paquin from “The Piano” (who was just a girl at the time) on the TV telling us about this strange new thing called “the information super-highway” and how it would change our lives. And for better or worse, it certainly has. It has made a wealth of information instantly accessible. It has allowed me and countless other creative souls to have websites to show (and sell) our creations to the whole wide world. And it has enabled me and my husband to have an online business that offers micro-macrame books, kits, online classes and digital e-patterns.

But there is the inevitable downside too. A few years back I got an email from another micro-macrame author Annika DeGroot . She kindly advised me that my book “Micro-Macrame Jewelry, Tips and Techniques for Knotting with Beads” was being offered as a free download on various websites. This was a rude awakening for naive little me as I was not aware that this was happening, nor did I give anyone permission to give my book away for free! Many of these unscrupulous websites are based in other countries and ignore any copyright laws of the USA. I am not by any means the only author who has had her books illegally distributed, there are many.

So why does this matter? It’s obvious why it matters to me - as an author who earns much of my income from the sale of books (my intellectual property) I feel harmed if anyone steals my property and uses it for their own purposes. But it also wrongs the person who downloads the so-called “free” version because they inadvertently help this kind of thing to continue, often without being aware that they have done anything unethical.

With all the legitimately free videos and tutorials available on the internet, it’s not surprising that there is a tacit expectation that all information should be free. But think about it - what is the incentive for a working author or musician to create something of value and put it out there if they can’t expect to get any return from it? 

Free internet content is important and definitely a great service. I have benefited from it myself many times. But let’s just make sure that what we download is really meant to be free & continue to support our artists, authors, and musicians!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Donation Box


As those artists who have been around a while can attest, sooner or later you will be approached to donate a piece of your artwork to a charity for their fund raising auction. In years past, when I was participating in a lot of arts and crafts fairs I got loads of requests - it seemed like every other week at times. I must admit to having mixed feelings about the whole thing ranging from “Sure, I’d be happy to help the woman’s shelter or the animal shelter - they are definitely a worthy cause” to the less charitable “Not again! Why don’t they ask some rich people instead?”. 
As Joni Mitchell said in one song - “There’s a wide wide world of noble causes...” and it’s true that most of the groups that ask for donations truly are worthy causes. 
So what to do if you can’t donate to them all? My solution has been to choose one or two that I have a special feeling or connection to. One of my choices is my neighborhood library. I use their services all the time and in this era of budget cuts and austerity - they need help from the community to survive.
It does help that I’ve been producing art for many years and have accumulated a lot of pieces that haven’t been saleable for one reason or another but are still of value. So I’ve designated a special donation box in my studio where I put any jewelry that fits that description. Now when I get a request, I just go to the box and pull something out instead of having to rummage through my inventory. I find that it’s not only a good feeling to help support a good organization through my artwork but it’s really liberating to clear out some pieces that have been hanging around my studio far too long !

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back To The Drawing Board

OK, it happened again. I was working on a new idea, a macrame flower, “exploring the possibilities and potential of the materials” (i.e. nylon cord and beads) and I got to a turning point (several hours of tedious work later) when I had to make an important decision. The decision was - “Do I continue pouring more time and energy into this piece or do I stop now and add yet another half finished thing to my shoebox?” I didn’t want all the hours I’d already spent on this thing to go to waste, but as it progressed with only so-so results, I kept thinking, this is tedious, this is no fun, this is taking forever. Joseph Campbell advised us to “follow your bliss”, and it was very clear to me that this was not my bliss! So I tossed it into the black hole (my shoebox of no return) and I’m happier now because I’m freed up to work on something else. Something that I can feel good about, maybe even get excited about.
Or maybe to just sit on my porch and stare off into space......
I like to think that there are no such things as“failures” in art and that I learn something valuable from all of those partially finished thingees that I’ve made over the years. Well maybe I’ve learned a few things that I just can’t remember at the moment. But today my lesson seems to be that life is short, and macrame is very long, so I’ll quit working on stuff that doesn’t make me happy and only make things that do make me happy.